The introduction of plain packaging in the same year as a tobacco display ban would whip up a “perfect storm” for the small store sector, retailers have warned.
It follows the shock announcement that the government is to launch an independent evidence review of plain packaging for tobacco.
While the government has never ruled out standard packaging, it has always maintained that it would wait at least another year before deciding, in order to examine more detailed results from Australia.
The evidence review, set to be completed by the end of March 2014, will be led by paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler, with the possibility of implementation by 2015 - the same year that a display ban will be introduced in stores under 3,000sq ft.
Chantler will be able to draw on the responses from a 2012 public consultation, of which 64% of the 600,000-plus responses opposed the plan.
Raj Patel of Weybridge News, Weybridge, Surrey, said that implementing both pieces of legislation at the same time would herald “significant operational difficulties”.
“Preparing for and complying with a display ban is going to be challenging enough without adding plain packaging to the mix. We are on a busy high street and speed of service is key. The complications of a display ban and plain packaging are bound to increase queuing times,” he said.
Buckinghamshire Spar retailer Peter Sichel said it would be the “absolute worst-case scenario”.
“All this will do is harm the legitimate industry and small stores, while giving criminals the key to the underground trade,” he said.
The Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman urged the government to consider the implications for retailers. “In Australia, nine out of 10 small retailers have experienced an increase in the time taken to serve customers,” he said.
The impact down under
Australia became the first country in the world to introduce plain packaging in December 2012. Early evidence suggests that it has no impact on tobacco consumption. However, there has continued to be an increase in the levels of illicit tobacco being smoked. According to a recent KPMG report, the illicit trade in Australia now accounts for 13.3% of the market, up from 11.8% in 2012. The legislation has been challenged by tobacco-manufacturing countries such as Cuba, who have filed complaints with the World Trade Organisation.
”The government is not taking into account the stress on shopworkers when you consider the problems with trying to find what customers want when every pack looks the same.“
Matt Gluggles, Gluggles Off-Licence, York
”Plain packaging won’t achieve its aim as it won’t affect sales - in my store tobacco is already out of sight. People know what they want and pack design has zero influence.“
Peter Lamb, Lambs Larder, Bells Yew Green, East Sussex